Following a tough loss to LSU in Austin, the Longhorns will prepare to wrap up non-conference play at NRG Stadium in Houston against the Rice Owls. The Owls enter Saturday’s matchup with an 0-2 record after suffering losses to Army and Wake Forest. Head coach Mike Bloomgren now holds a 2-13 career record after taking over for David Bailiff following the 2017 season. The former Stanford offensive coordinator is trying to replicate and build what made Stanford so well respected around the country, but so far it has been tough sledding. Let’s take a look at what to expect when the Stanford offense takes the field.
The Owls held a quarterback competition throughout fall camp that was eventually won by redshirt freshman Wiley Green. Green had a tough day against Army in Week 1, completing 7 of his 14 passes for only 62 yards. He then suffered a scary injury in the second quarter, ultimately having to be carted off the field. The good news is he is expected to be okay, but it is unlikely Green plays this week.
In Green’s expected absence, graduate transfer Tom Stewart will take over and lead the offense. The former Harvard quarterback finished last Saturday 19 for 30 for 185 yards and a touchdown in relief of Green last week. If the first 15 games of the Mike Bloomgren era are any indication, Stewart will not be asked to do too much on Saturday night. The Owls are one of the few teams who run a pro-style offense, frequently putting multiple tight ends and a fullback in the game together. When Rice does pass, it is usually high percentage throws to protect a shaky offensive line.
In their run-centric offense, the Owls will spread carries out to a handful of running backs. Redshirt senior Aston Walker is the starter, receiving 27 carries through the first 2 games. Fellow redshirt senior Nahshon Ellerbe had a 54-yard TD against Army and is viewed as more of a big-play threat.
There are two main players the Texas secondary will need to slow down. Juniors Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell have combined to haul in 17 of the 29 completions the Rice offense has. The Longhorns secondary will likely not get many chances to correct the coverage problems that arose against LSU, but if they do they will need to do a better job of preventing easy completions for chunk yardage. It would not be a surprise to see Rice try to get the ball out to Rozner and Trammell in space to see if the Longhorns have cleaned up their tackling.
Bloomgren has a history of coaching the offensive line, so it is not surprising to see he attacked the graduate transfer market heavily to try to fill some holes the Owls had up front. Rice will likely start 3 graduate transfers along the offensive line, led by left guard Nick Leverett. Right guard Shea Baker started at center in 2018 but was pushed over to make room for Brian Chaffin.
Despite the additions of several experienced upperclassmen, the Rice offensive line has still struggled. The identity Bloomgren wants is to run the ball between the tackles and play a physical brand of football, but it is hard to do so with an offensive line that struggles to hold up at the point of attack.
This should be a game where the Texas defense is able to gain some confidence. There is not one offense they will play the rest of the season who profiles similarly to the Owls, but that doesn’t mean the Longhorns defense can’t work on some things. Todd Orlando would love to see his secondary get back to playing fundamental football. The Texas defensive line has a huge advantage over the Rice offensive line, so I would imagine the Owls will find themselves behind the chains more often than they would like on Saturday night.
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